To Have and to Hold: NAEYC Members Discuss Children’s Comfort Objects
Whether or not you’re a fan of fidget spinners, it’s easy to understand the appeal of these self-soothing items—like stress balls or worry stones, they allow us to release nervous energy or stress. An adult version of Linus’s trusty blue blanket. It’s no surprise, then, that young children also find comfort in having something to hold on to.
Working with a class of 2-year-olds she’d engaged with before, Jennifer (TX) sought some advice from NAEYC’s HELLO online community. One child she was familiar with had a habit of grabbing a toy (like a spatula or a hammer) and walking around with it. Jennifer asked if there were “any ideas for small objects that will fit nicely in a hand but are not be tied to a center.”
Here are excerpts from the helpful feedback she received:
Cindy (MA) reminded the group that it’s important for early childhood environments to be “more responsive to the developmental needs of young children,” not the other way around. If a child is attached to a particular object, there’s no reason she can’t carry it around the room (and help return the object to its home once she’s done).
Echoing that thought, Deborah (MN) added, “If we are truly creating play environments where children explore and learn, then we need to offer time and space for the exploration and learning to happen.”
Joseph (VA) noted that “from a child development standpoint, this transporting of objects may be a very good thing.” When children are able to think symbolically (e.g., use a wooden block as a cell phone) and engage in sociodramatic play, they are demonstrating higher-order thinking skills.
Flexibility and creativity
Cindy (MA) saw potential in using the child’s attachment to the spatula to spur creativity, engage in dramatic play, and practice physical skills. She asked, “What else would a spatula be useful for besides as a kitchen tool? What about for banging on a pot or a block to make noise, a toy iron to smooth out the baby’s clothes, or a tool for turning over upside-down puzzle pieces?”
James (MD) highlighted the power of children’s imaginations to transform a spatula into a magic wand or make a toy hammer morph into a “super tool that can fix anything anywhere in the classroom.” With open-ended materials, children’s innovations add new dimensions to ordinary objects.
Inspired by the posts she was reading, Chris added four spatulas to her grandchildren’s (ages 4–6) toy area and observed them. She enjoyed seeing the many ways the children used the tools, from picking up bugs to working with paints to splashing in the pool to “using them to step on, one at a time, to make their way across the grass.”
Objects to hold
It’s common for little ones to feel comforted by having something to hold. Several members offered budget-friendly suggestions. Abigail (NJ) brought up shakers, stress balls, hacky sacks, and balled-up socks. Aryn (OK) has had success with loose parts, like cloths, padlocks, hairbrushes, and pine cones. Carol (PA) keeps a treasure basket in her room for game pieces and odds and ends. Children take items out to carry around or to use as props in dramatic play. Because the basket isn’t tied to a particular center, “it offers its own kind of freedom, and it gives me a place to put things that are too good to throw out!”
Do you have questions or suggestions to share with your peers? Or are you simply interested in reading the different takes of early childhood educators from around the country? Tap into the vibrant discussions on Hello!
Mabel Yu is an associate editor at NAEYC.